To believe a promise made by God is easy, but the sages also want us to be inspired to follow our own dreams and reach our goals.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Va’era” (Exodus 6:2-9:35) and in it we are introduced to the “four expressions of redemption” — the four ways in which God promised that He would redeem us from Egypt. The four expressions are “I will bring you out”, “I will save you”, “I will redeem you”, “I will take you”.
According to most interpretations, we drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder in order to recall these four expressions. One cup for each of God’s proclamations, each of God’s promises, each of God’s prophecies. While this teaching is somewhat widely known, there is yet another interpretation for why we drink four cups of wine at the Seder.
According to some sages, the reason we drink four cups of wine at the Seder is to recall the dream of the wine-butler who was imprisoned with Joseph. To recap: one night, the wine butler had a dream that he was squeezing grapes into a cup and then serving the cup of freshly squeezed wine to Pharaoh. Joseph correctly interpreted the dream to mean that the butler would soon be released from prison and restored to his post. The word “cup” appears four times in the narration of the dream which, according to this second interpretation, is why we drink four cups of wine at the Seder. The butler dreamed of freedom and got his freedom.
Now here’s the obvious question. It is quite easy and reasonable to say that we drink four cups of wine at the Seder in order to recall how God promised that He would redeem us from Egypt and the brutal slavery. Indeed, the entire Seder is to celebrate the Exodus and freedom from Egypt, so drinking four cups to recall God’s promises that foretold our freedom is certainly reasonable and relevant. But why in the world would we drink four cups of wine at the Seder in order to recall the dream of some anti-Semitic wine-butler prisoner?
But before I give the answer, I would like to digress for a moment while I have your attention to share a fascinating and lesser known fact in the story of the slavery. The Jews were originally meant to be slaves in Egypt for at least 400 years. Indeed, those were God’s exact words to Abraham. However, if one does that math, one will see that the Jewish were slaves for “only” 210 years!
What’s going on over here?
We are taught that the reason the years of slavery were reduced was because the Jews worked harder than originally intended! In other words, even God was shocked at how cruel Pharaoh was to the Jewish people. The 210 years they worked in cruel labor was the equivalent of 400 years of “regular” slave labor. As such, God freed them earlier than originally decreed. In another, similar interpretation, the Jews had worked so hard that they accomplished and built in 210 years what should normally take 400 years. There are other explanations as well.
So back to our wine butler. Perhaps the lesson is as follows: It’s quite one thing when God openly declares and promises that our dreams will come true. That we will be free. That we will be successful. It’s easy to accept such things when you hear them from the Creator of the world. But when such promises and inspiration seem to come from the simple folk, a butler, a wine servant, do we believe them in the same way? Do we act on courage and inspiration when it comes from someone and somewhere “beneath” us, or do we reject it because it didn’t come from someone or somewhere that is “(A)above” us?
Maybe this is why the sages wanted us to have the butler incident in mind at the Passover Seder. To believe a promise made by God is easy, but the sages also want us to follow dreams and inspirations that come from ordinary people, no matter how down and out they may be.
Our goal must be to find inspiration, meaning, and promise in the little signs and messages that God sends us. If we “dream,” like the butler did, that we will be free and successful, then we will be successful, just as it happened for him. God wants us to realize that our freedom and success is sometimes in our own minds, our own dreams, and we need not necessarily wait for Divine declarations.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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